Philips Winter Media Event 2011
Before continuing it's important to get one point across. I was under absolutely no obligation to write a single word about this event. When contacted the first question I asked the philips representative was "What is expected of me if I attend?" The answer was "If you see anything you like we hope you decide to write about it." There's no way I would have covered this event if I was obligated to write about products that didn't thrill me or products unrelated to Computer Audiophile. That said, everyone associated with the event was first class and very accessible to answer questions.
As I said previously I found two Philips products to be pretty impressive. The newly improved Fidelio SoundSphere with AirPlay® and the WiFi Multiroom HiFi system. Even more impressive than the products was Philips' focus on good quality sound. Philips calls it Obsessed with Sound.
I spent some time after one presentation with a Philips engineer to discuss sound quality. The conversation covered topics such as lossless audio, FLAC, sample rates, and the poor quality of lossy formats that have dominated the last many years. I was excited to hear from such a giant in the consumer electronics industry that it was truly interested in and developing products for high quality sound reproduction. The engineer I talked to was very familiar with all the software applications Computer Audiophile readers use. At home he has different UPnP servers running and different playback applications to send lossless audio to multiple devices. It's pretty easy to tell if people know what they are talking about and if they know what's going on in the industry when it comes to computer playback. This guy certainly knows what he was talking about and could fit right into the CA forum seamlessly. Who knows maybe we've all been talking to him already :~)
One of the presentations at the Philips event was from Grammy winning producer Steve Lilywhite. Steve shared stories of his many years working with artists such as U2, Dave Matthews Band, and The Rolling Stones. Oddly enough one of Steve's first jobs was working for Philips in its recording studio in London many years ago.
Philips Fidelio SoundSphere
The Philips Fidelio SoundSphere speakers are self powered with a built-in DAC. The new design of these speakers is much more aesthetically pleasing than the previous squarish metal enclosures of the previous model. The base of the Fidelio SoundSphere is created with 70 individual pieces of wood put together like a seamless puzzle. In person these speakers look equally as impressive as they do in the high resolution photos. The floating tweeter is an interesting concept that enables one to listen fairly far off-axis without a severe sonic impact. The chances are pretty good that users of these speakers will not be sitting in the sweet spot for extended periods of time to enjoy music. This design allows one to walk around the room and still enjoy the sonic quality of the Fidelio SoundSphere. The tweeter may appear a bit fragile as it sits on a skinny connection to the main speaker body. However, I was impressed when the product designer lifted the entire speaker with two fingers pulling up on the tweeter housing. this may not be the ideal way to dust around the Fidelio SoundSpheres but it can be done in a pinch. In my brief audition of these speakers with an iPad as the source via AirPlay® I enjoyed the sound. This is a speaker built for a wide range of installations. It won't fair well as main speakers in an all-out audiophile assault, but the sound should be very enjoyable in an office, kitchen, bedroom, or any other "normal" room in a house. Possibly even more important than all of this is the Wife Acceptance Factor. It's off the charts with the Fidelio SoundSphere.
The Philips Fidelio SoundSphere is expected to be available from May 2011 with a recommended retail price of around $1,100.
Philips WiFi Multiroom HiFi System
The Philips WiFi Multiroom HiFi System consists of two components the MCI8080 main unit with separate speakers and the NP3700 satellite unit with built-in speakers. This system is also not considered high-end but should please many readers looking for a simple way to stream music around the house without the need to have a computer on at all times. The three best parts of this WiFi HiFi system are its support for FLAC lossless audio, UPnP/DLNA, and playback of the same or different music in each zone. This system is designed to work with open systems like UPnP and does not work with Apple's AirPlay®. Philips has released its own Android, and iPad/iPhone app called Fidelio [App Store Link]. This app is designed to control all sources of music capable of playing through the WiFi HiFi system. It will control the CD player, Internet radio, local music files, and even music from a UPnP server. During a presentation for this system I opened PlugPlayer on my iPhone and confirmed it's fully compatible with UPnP as I could select the Philips components from the device list. The WiFi HiFi system is advertised as being capable of storing 2000 albums. Audiophiles certainly know this number will shrink for uncompressed audio. The disk storage is located on an external 160GB hard drive. As of this writing I am unsure is a larger drive can be attached. I do like the design decision made by Philips to keep the hard drive outside the main unit. This should allow simple replacement when the drive fails. The built-in touchscreen on both the MCI8080 main unit and the NP3700 satellite unit is OK. It's nothing like an iPhone touchscreen but also much better than the MiMo Touchscreen Monitors I've used.
One additional note: Philips has teamed with the creators of Songbird to develop a Philips version of the application that supports UPnP/DLNA playback.
Availability and price of the Philips WiFi Multiroom HiFi System components was not available at the time of this writing.
Some pictures of the Barcelona event and a nice video of the Obsessed with Sound campaign featuring Steve Lilywhite can be found at the following links.